Backing up: Explosions, Archives & Regrets….
This is actually something very close to my heart. It upsets me to think of the images I have lost through foolish mistakes. Mistakes where I am clearly absolved of all blame and that were totally non fault. Such as…… losing CD’s & DVD’s, forgetting to archive in the first place, deleting before backing up, deleting after back-up… the list goes on.
A number of instances have occurred over the last ten years that have proved less than satisfactory in my book. I have over eleven thousand images online and occasionally one or two of the more interesting ones are picked up by a google search. I am then contacted by “Joe Bloggs” who normally goes on to say “I would like to purchase the said image, could you provide me with a full size JPEG?” If you are not familiar with the two regular types of file that images from cameras are generated, edited and stored in then for clarification I will briefly explain.
As you press the shutter the camera records the image on to a memory card, I know that we all know this so lets move it along. Now depending on the type of camera and its ability, there is normally two options for the format of recording an image.
- The first is JPEG (Joint Photographic Experts Group) is a commonly used method of lossy compression for digital photography (image). The degree of compression can be adjusted, allowing a selectable tradeoff between storage size and image quality. JPEG typically achieves 10:1 compression with little perceptible loss in image quality. This is the format that the everyday user would set in their digital camera. If you are keen to read more on the JPEG then you can peruse this article on Wikipedia here
- The second (and my choice and personal preference) is Camera RAW.A camera raw image file contains minimally processed data from the image sensor of either a digital camera, image scanner, or motion picture film scanner. Raw files are named so because they are not yet processed and therefore are not ready to be printed or edited with a bitmap graphics editor. Normally, the image is processed by a raw converter in a wide-gamut internal colourspace where precise adjustments can be made before conversion to a “positive” file format such as TIFF or JPEG for storage, printing, or further manipulation, which often encodes the image in a device-dependent color space. There are dozens if not hundreds of raw formats in use by different models of digital equipment (like cameras or film scanners).Raw image files are sometimes called digital negatives, as they fulfill the same role as negatives in film photography: that is, the negative is not directly usable as an image, but has all of the information needed to create an image. Likewise, the process of converting a raw image file into a viewable format is sometimes called developing a raw image, by analogy with the film development process used to convert photographic film into viewable prints. The selection of the final choice of image rendering is part of the process of white balancing and color grading. Like a photographic negative, a raw digital image may have a wider dynamic range or color gamut than the eventual final image format, and it preserves most of the information of the captured image. The purpose of raw image formats is to save, with minimum loss of information, data obtained from the sensor, and the conditions surrounding the capturing of the image (the metadata). If you are keen to read more on the RAW then you can peruse this article here
RAW is far better in terms of quality and it gives the user the ability to edit with much less degradation to the final image. It does however, have a couple of minor flaws. The average size of a JPEG file is dependent on the camera sensor size but it is always smaller than the size of its RAW equivalent. This is where the problems start when it comes to archiving your images, you will see why when I explain the issues that have affected me.
I started shooting in RAW back in early 2005 when I got my first DSLR. I took the leap over to RAW after watching the photographer we employed to shoot our wedding. I had a lengthy chat with him after the wedding regarding RAW and I will admit since that day I havent set my camera to JPEG or even RAW & JPEG. So why? I hear you asking….. well that’s not really the purpose of this post but I will answer that in two separate words….Quality, Control. That is Quality and Control not Quality Control by the way. Quality….the quality of RAW is far superior, Control….in RAW you have far more control within the editing process than you do with JPEG.
So what is the big issue? A one gigabyte memory card that is inserted in to a twenty-two mega pixel camera will hold approximately forty-five to fifty RAW images. In this day and age where memory cards for cameras are having to be larger to cope with increasing file sizes, a good sixty-four gigabyte can hold in excess of three thousand images. That’s great I hear you saying….what is the actual problem here? Ok, I will try to explain…. Put yourself in this scenario; You are a very keen non-professional-photographer who goes out two or three times a week to pursue his/her hobby. You have been out all day taking photographs at an event and head back home with two thousand images stored on a single or even multiple memory cards. You plug-in your camera/memory cards which ever way you choose and begin transferring your days work. If you have done this you will know how long it takes to copy the files. Depending on the transfer speed of the card, the reader, your computer or all three it can take a good hour if not longer. This is where the real trouble starts…… ok? you have copied your two thousand images to your computer or external hard drive so what you have done is effectively reduce the capacity of the Hard Drive by sixty-four gigabytes. Mmmm sixty-four gigabytes…most computer hard drives are between five hundred and one thousand gigabytes. Now I am not a world-class mathematician and it doesn’t take a genius to work out that is twelve point eight percent of your hard drive consumed. That’s ok you say, I will just delete them after I have edited them and saved my smaller sized JPEG files to my computer hard drive. That way I can free up the space for the next photo session I go on next Friday. One click, and they are all deleted.
Back in 2005 I started backing up my RAW files. The most economical way seemed to be to copy them to DVD. This job was long and tedious, changing discs every 5 minutes and a typical shoot could take up to twelve discs. The easiest way is to back them up to an external Hard Drive. External Hard Drives come in various sizes and are available up to twelve terrabyte; to give you a comparison my photo shoot would occupy 0.5 percent of that drive. But, despite being the better method of storage using a twelve terrabyte drive would be a costly experience… you are looking at £1,090.79 inc VAT ouch. !
I don’t go for a large, single drive, I much prefer to choose the smaller and higher quantity variation.This way, should the drive have an unfortunate incident you can minimise the data loss to a smaller amount of files. I was the victim of this quite a few years ago and as a result all my RAW files and the majority of my JPEG edit’s were lost. It was my fault to be completely honest. When I first started accumulating these images I purchased two Freecom forty giga-byte drives. Forty giga-bytes is not a lot these days but back in 2005 it was huge. The two Freecom drives lasted me a while until one day there was a problem with one of the power supplies. My next move was probably the worst move I ever made when it came to messing and tinkering. By the way, that is the phrase bestowed on me by my wonderful wife Elaine. She’s right. Spot on in fact and the words “messing & tinkering” are no further from the truth.
I shouldn’t mess with things I know nothing about. I do it all the time. But what I did this time was; well… I had somehow figured out that the power supply was at fault. I am not sure how I arrived at this conclusion but lets say for argument’s sake that “I just knew” I remembered that I had one similar to the broken one so I plugged it in. Well it had looked similar and I thought that because it had the same “end” on the wire it would fit. It did fit! What was I worried about.
What happened next would devastate me, my computer, my plans for the day and my back up plans for 2008. I fired up the computer, maybe “fired” was a bad selection of words there; and all of a sudden as the power kicked in there was a fizzing noise followed closely by a faint puffing sound. Oh sugar ! What happened there. Now, due to my medical history I no longer have a sense of smell and as a result I can only describe what happened visually. The PC had fired up (literally) and in the “My Computer” section there was something missing. Yes, my Freecom hard drive was deceased. It had given up the RAW files to the great old hard drive cemetery in the sky. I had killed my own hard drive by messing and tinkering. I took the container apart to remove the actual disk drive. There is nothing to the inside of one of those boxes , in fact when you actually dismantle it you will see how few parts there actually are. Not many ! And I can vouch for that. Despite my attempts to revive and resuscitate the hard disk by plugging it in to the motherboard direct, the game was up. There was no pulse and no sign of life. It had written its last file and given up the ghost. Recovery was impossible. I was so desperate I even looked in to purchasing a “Kosher” program to recover the files but it was not to be.
2008 may be the missing years when it comes to my images but I will have to learn to live with it. I think I actually have about thirty on a CD in one of my folders. This leads me on to a very kind offer that was made to me last week. A good friend whom I used to attend school with dropped me a line and asked if I could make use of some external computer hard drives. Well, you know me by now, never look a gift horse in the mouth. You know who you are, thank you isn’t enough. Of course. That’s my archiving sorted for 2011/12 photography seasons. And that is what I am doing now, moving just short of 200,000 files from my operating drives over to archive. Slowly……… One folder at a time.
It’s a long story again, and I wont bore you…..but it is so easy to corrupt these camera RAW files when transferring them. Do you know why? I do……I did it. It could only happen to me, as my mother would say. Thanks for reading. As always, comments welcome.